School is only a problem for the middle class

It’s clear that school is negatively impacting families. Parents protest loudly about the inadequacies of school. The picture up top makes me laugh, and so does this crazy homework assignment a Texas teacher handed out to fourth graders. 

But I wouldn’t be laughing if it were my life. I’d feel trapped in the middle class. Because it’s the middle class who suffers most from schools, which is why I am pretty certain things will never get better.

The rich people treat school like homeschool already. The most expensive schools function like homeschool with really good private tutors and high-flying play groups.

The lower class don’t mind the interruptions to family life because they are a small price to pay for the free childcare that these families cannot live without.

Which means it’s the middle class who are most negatively affected by school.

It’s the middle class who are protesting that it’s impossible to get kids into great schools.

It’s the middle class who are protesting so loudly against the common core that they are even getting arrested.  After all the rich kids don’t need the common core because their schools don’t need funding, and poor families have bigger things to worry about than which math book kids are using.

We have no idea what makes a good teacher—really, there is no reliable, quantified research. But we do know that what kids really need is family time.




29 replies
  1. Lisa B. Sharp
    Lisa B. Sharp says:

    You are right —- no one knows what makes a good teacher because education is not a one size fits all endeavor. Determining what makes a good teacher is kind of like what the Supreme court said about obscenity — you just know it when you see it.

  2. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    Good one, PT. In very real local school terms, middle-class can be defined as being too rich for the local public school bureaucracy to care about your problems (because the easiest way for them to solve the problem of you is just wait for you to leave) and too poor to get accepted to local private schools (because they expect huge donations on top of tuition, and financially screen applicants).

    The ongoing school disaster in this country is just another facet of the destruction of our middle class.

    • Amy K.
      Amy K. says:

      In my area private schools offer ample aid to middle-class families, but they don’t want kids who have any kind of “issues.” My kid has some social challenges that make public school difficult, but I’m not bothering with private because I’m pretty sure they won’t take us. Hence the homeschooling.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        In my area, private schools accept kids who need financial aid if they’re important to the school’s diversity portfolio. An admissions rep at one of our area’s most prestigious schools told me she liked to accept ethnic kids in pairs “so they won’t get lonely.”

        Incredible amounts of fundraising is done at the scholarship fairs to permit the poor ethnic kids to enjoy the benefits of the school. It’s not like they’re really integrated, but everybody’s nice to them until their paths part again.

        Unless there’s a compelling reason such as completing an ethnic pair, they normally only accept people likely to give five-figure donations each year on top of full tuition.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        It’s a lot of pressure for a kid to be on scholarship at a private grammar school. It means the kid needs to perform at a very high level in order to keep the scholarship for fifteen years. If for any reason the scholarship is pulled the kid’s whole social life is pulled with it.

        It’s well documented how many kids lose scholarships after two or three years at university. The hardship on them is tremendous. But younger kids are at risk of this happening for fifteen years. As a parent I’m not sure I could even handle the pressure.


        • karelys
          karelys says:

          I never knew this and never really thought of it. It’s like having a job from a super young age (a job with the pressure to provide for a family or everything fails).

  3. Karo
    Karo says:

    This blog is depressing. Just plain depressing. I can’t believe what the world has come to.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      yeah…reality is pretty depressing.

      Once you’re faced with the facts you have to make a choice on how you will figure things out. Either you continue the same way or do something different.

      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        Agreed. Reality doesn’t care what you think. Of course you can ignore it, but all it will do is hide under the bed and sharpen its claws.

        This issue about the middle class will solve itself, because the middle class is not going to last much longer. Its entire existence has been a mere blip in a long timeline involving only two classes.

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    A teacher friend of mine posted on Facebook something that said “children spend 1700 a school year in their home, 900 hours a school year in school. Which teacher should be held accountable.”

    Besides the math making no sense because of all the bus time and being at home doesn’t equal being with family (I think they meant just outside of school for those 1700)…and besides the part of “which teacher should be held accountable” (terrible)…..

    My first thought was “THAT’S WAY TOO MUCH TIME IN SCHOOL!”

  5. mh
    mh says:

    Middle class kids would get a far better education watching Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day” on endless loop and learning to prepare meals and manage household finances.

    Practical knowledge PLUS training in virtue.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      not really – knowing how to prepare meals and manage household finances is not the skill set to keep you in the “middle class”.

      • my
        my says:

        Red rock,

        We disagree. Practical knowledge, good habits, and an ability to delay gratification (virtue), use good judgment (virtue), distinguish right from wrong (virtue), and stick to principles (virtue) created the middle class.

        In order to maintain the middle class, the next generation must be civilized and must assimilate practical knowledge and virtue.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          I am hoping that good judgement, ability to distinguish right from wrong and principles to live by are not solely a mark of the middle class – but I agree that those are important and critical parts of a person; I just would not call it a “skill set”. But we might simply differ in our definition of middle class, which is mostly used (including this blog entry) as a definition of a certain economic bracket.

  6. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Back in the days of Horace Mann in the 1840s the idea of the “common school” was to civilize the lower-class Boston Irish and cure them of their Catholicism. Oh, and the schools would lower the crime rate by 90 percent.

    By 1900 the idea was to teach kids discipline so they would be good obedient factory workers.

    Today the government schools have given up on educating the lower classes, but they are quite happy to whack away at middle-class kids.

    Bottom line is: Get a clue, middle class moms!

  7. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Is it just me, or shouldn’t we be more appalled that the fourth grader (in the link above) is in public school and spells like that!!!!

    “it sese in the pgs.”
    “tommy brok a windo witha bat.”

    Is this a joke? I don’t expect that type of spelling from fourth graders. I don’t know…

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Personally, I’m more appalled by the fact that it doesn’t say Tommy broke the window at all, and the kids are being rewarded for a rush to judgment. As any fan of Encyclopedia Brown would note, the glass was on the inside, indicating the window was broken from the outside.

      Maybe Tommy ran out to catch the kids who broke the window.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Yes, I was so distracted by the spelling, and started to doubt it was possible that a fourth grade student had done THAT work while at school in the teacher’s presence. Then the mom upset about the assignment doesn’t seem at all concerned with the education he is receiving and posts photos of it. That’s what I am wondering now, is this what public education is offering? Fourth grade level writing included a 20 page report on one of the fifty states with a title page and bibliography with no parent help for me. This poor child’s handwriting is worse than my 4 year olds, she just writes words like they sound…that is why I was wondering if it was a joke, like it can’t be real.

        Then the bigger picture, rushing to judgment, no critical thinking skills… that clearly is the most important thing. The questions were open ended enough for the kids to develop and display critical thought processes but with the potential to make bad judgment calls.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        So funny! I thought of Encyclopedia Brown as well. It’s like the assignment is a parody of Encyclopedia Brown because it has the same tone but it’s totally inappropriate.


  8. AP
    AP says:

    I’m on the fence with homeschooling. My kids go to a private school ($17K a year per kid! WooHoo! I’m BROKE!) and the stuff they do in school is pretty amazing at times. My only issue with their school is that they don’t get enough play time. And I’d love a longer school year, but a shorter day. Heck, I’d love a longer school year, but a shorter day and only 4 days of school per week. I could do that with homeschooling, but I’m not confident I could educate them as well as their current school. I don’t know that I’m on board with letting them educate themselves. My kids would be playing Minecraft all day while I worked (I have my own business and work from home). And I can be a bit of a shut-in, so I doubt I’d provide enough social opportunities for them. I suppose I could hire a private tutor for them and still save money since I’m spending $51K per year (and that doesn’t include uniforms and the cost of gas to drive them to and from school every day). I’d love to see my kids more, though. I miss them when they’re at school for too long without a break (our school does love long weekends and they get 2 spring breaks). I’ve been reading this blog for years and the education section has been an interesting addition. I certainly don’t think of my kids’ school as babysitting, though I suppose it could be called that from a pessimistic point of view.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I have always been the kind of person that seeks out something new to learn. I’m not having fun if I am not getting better. From that point of view I knew that I could be a good guide to my child.
      Here are some things that helped me take the plunge on the homeschooling issue:

      -specialization is a huge thing that they won’t learn in the early years (my mom was a teacher in Mexico and the way they do school is interesting. They don’t wait until you have taken years and years of school to start practicing. They start you out early, like in high school early. I wanted that for my kid.).
      -If I wanted an incredibly good education at a private school I would need to make about $51K more a year for two kids (that’s just before college). That means more work and less time with family. So instead, we cut back on work and the financial “loss” creates an incredible value added to our family without the need to add more expense.
      -(I don’t know how to post links in a better manner here but here it is This young man never really went to school but his education was mainly Khan Academy. And is now going to Columbia.

      -Play time is too important for us. I study Psychology and I know how important it is to let the kid learn on its own.

      I think the decision to homeschool wasn’t so much something we sought out, but it was the result of many internal changes. Once we had a completely different attitude about life that didn’t fit in with the way life was being dictated around us we just jumped off the hamster wheel.

      I am a bit of a shut-in myself. But it’s okay. I don’t have to be with my kid 24/7. When he’s old enough to join groups of people according to interests I can take him there. And while he’s so little, I’ll just make sure to take him where there are other people. I take him to work and everywhere we go. He interacts with all kinds of people besides his parents.

      Good luck with everything you have going on. I think that you are very smart and have lots of grit to have positioned yourself to work at home and do it successfully. Right there and there you know that you are one of the best examples your kids can get!

      Everything else they can pick up on their own as needed or as their interests lead them in the future. But right now I think watching their mom kick butt is one of the best examples they can get. They follow. Kids always follow behavior not so much the words. As scary as it is, it’s also comforting. Because you may not be the best teacher for certain things (it’s okay, they got the internet) but you definitely have the best behavior modeling!

  9. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    You’ve talked about the school to prison pipeline before. That’s not a middle class problem that’s a lower class problem, and that’s not a story line that I would give up.

    I live in one of the cheaper (probably lower class all the way to middle class) areas of Raleigh, and about 90% of kids in the neighborhood attend public school.

    Most of the kids live with their mom and their mom’s live-in boyfriend, but a few have dads in the picture too. Either way, I don’t think they have abusive families, but their parents are not really that involved in their lives either. I believe their abdication of parenting is a direct result of the influence of public institutions in their kids lives.

    The kids congregate in the street in front of my house to play since we sort of have a field and there is minimal traffic. They do normal kids stuff, and most of the time don’t do anything too mean, but sometimes they intentionally kick balls into people’s cars, tease the littlest kids and throw their trash on the ground.

    Anyhow, the parents are never outside supervising the kids (even when there are really young kids around). I think the parents line of reasoning is that their kids are in school all day, and they want them to have as much freedom as possible in the afternoons/evenings/summers.

    Whatever the reasoning is, it looks like the parents have abdicated responsibility for their kids. When I have issues with the kids behavior, I don’t even think about talking to the parents, I just go out and talk to the oldest kid in the group and try to get them to model better behavior, but I’ve had neighbors call the cops on them.

    These kids aren’t even teenagers yet, and they are already having cops talk to them as if they are criminals.

    Any institution that makes it look like an outside agency (ie police) has more authority in non-criminal but behavioral matters in a kids life than the parents is a big problem in my book.

    I think schools undermine parental authority and relationship in all cases, but this is particularly problematic for the lower classes where family structure is so disrespected that nobody appeals to parents to guide and instruct and teach their kids, and instead they call in law enforcement.

  10. Geoffrey
    Geoffrey says:

    I think that very last sentence can make a huge, huge difference.

    I had asked Paul Tough, during a book tour for “How Children Succeed”, what was one of the most important things you can do for children? And he said along the lines of if there’s only one thing you can do, it’s just being there for them. That makes the biggest impact on children.

  11. Lake
    Lake says:

    I’m homeschooling my 4th grader. My 9th grader has started taking online college classes for his academics and going to high school for band, French and sports. That is my Common Core protest….we are loving life.

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